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Naiara Ardanaz Iñarga, Professor of the MOOC 'Navarra: History and Culture', promoted by the project 'Creativity and Cultural Heritage' del Institute for Culture and Society

Christmas songs and songs in Navarre

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 12:55:00 +0000 Published in News Journal

The winter season, and especially around the Christian calendar, in Europe, even in the old colonies such as Quebec or New England for two hundred years, has been plagued by the traditional "cuestaciones" of children and young people collecting food or money from house to house. These traditions have not disappeared, especially in Navarre. Although in some places they have been forgotten, in others they are being recovered. They are customs that served to unite society with the participation of different groups, those who asked and received, and as a backdrop the solidarity of the Christmas season in which secular elements were also mixed.

If we pay attention to the calendar, the first of the cuestaciones was that of the bishop of San Nicolás, in which one of the children is elected bishop and goes around the town with his companions collecting food or money while singing. In Navarra it is celebrated in Eneritz, Burgi, Garínoain, Barasoain, Muruzabal and recently it has been recovered in Lesaka.

On December 24, the streets were filled with groups of children asking for alms, koskari (Goñi, Guesálaz, Yerri), colodra or aguinaldo (Ribera), kurribanda (Artajona) or pazkuanamorios (Iruñerria). The young people, boys and girls, did it at dusk, with songs and couplets in Basque or Spanish. The young people of the valley of Yerri sang the Fundele or Chundele, and in Guesálaz the Gogonas in Basque. The cuestaciones in the towns of the Ribera were a real party with tambourines, zambombas and any percussion instrument that served to accompany the carols, coplas and songs. In Cintruénigo they would ask for the colación singing: "A la señora [X] le venimos a cantar (bis), que nos da la colación que ha llegao la Navidad (bis). Zambomba, zambomba, carrizo, carrizo, los hombres del campo no comen chorizo".

In Ochagavía we also have report of some lyrics: "Verbum caro factumest / Maria beti Bergini / Verbum caro factumest / Maria Berginian ganik". And in Baztan and the Bidasoa Regatta, as Father Donostia reported, the children carried small nativity scenes and if the etxekoandre was delayed they would say: "If you are going to give us something, give it to us / If you are not going to give us anything, tell us / Our mother has not sent us / to freeze to death at your door".

In the Bidasoa and Arakil basin, one of the elements that was carried by the gangs accompanied by their corresponding songs was Olentzero, a figure that has now lost some of its original interesting characteristics that link it to other traditions throughout the Pyrenees, Aquitaine and Occitania, and has acquired new ones without any basis, partly due to commercial interests.

The songs and cuestaciones were also important on the last day of the year. In Tierra Estella these songs were very numerous in anticipation of receiving wine, nuts and chestnuts. In the Regata del Bidasoa the chant of the young people was and still is heard: "Dios te salbe, ongi etorri, gabon Jainkuak diela, legiarekin kunpli dezagun, urteberriren bezperan" (God save you, ongi etorri, gabon Jainkuak diela, legiarekin kunpli dezagun, urteberriren bezperan). After a general greeting, beginning with a praise to the Virgin Mary, the couplet continues, losing its religious character. Also common were the lost rites of collecting the lustral water by ringing the bells at average night in order to receive a gift in Baztán, Basaburúa, Imoz, Larráun, Burundi and Araquil, reciting Urgoiena, ur barrena when taking it to the authorities or neighbors. Today this custom is only preserved in Urdiain.

The children of Bera still go out on this day to collect sweets that are thrown from the balconies of certain houses shouting in unison "Glin, glan, glin, glan, duenak ez duenari eman". In several localities, the ancient and well-known tradition of the king of the Faba, of medieval origin, has also remained in force or its recovery has been promoted. To finish, we will mention within these cuestaciones the cencerradas that took place on the eve of Epiphany. It was a widespread custom in the Merindad de Pamplona, north of Estella and Olite up to the Aragón River for children to go around the town with any object that made noise to warn the Three Wise Men that they should not pass by without leaving their gifts.

We have mentioned some of the many celebrations that are held around Christmas, some of them still in full force and others that have disappeared. Perhaps they are no longer so attractive to children and young people. It all depends on how much effort the elders make to preserve the customs and traditions of Navarre.